Robin Rednecks Victorian Twitchathon report 2011.
(Team members: Matt Weeks, Michael Ramsey and Simon Starr)
After a bit of umming and erring in the lead up to this year?s race, finally
when the day got closer, all past and present rednecks were 100 percent on
board to go for a big list??yes the twitchathon juices were flowing again.
Planning before the day fell to original redneck Matt, who spent
considerable sleepless nights weighing up the options?..take off 5 minutes
here, spend an extra 10 there. So many decisions, enough to send the best of
us crazy. Original redneck Mick was off the hook, birding in Borneo when he
could have been doing reconnaissance for the main game. Redneck rope-in
Simon was uncommittal until the final week, when he yet again realised that
life?s too short to spend it relaxing on the weekend! What better way to get
the twitching bug out of your system than twenty four continuous hours of
We teamed up Sat lunchtime and travelled down to our starting point on the
coast, doing a couple of reccies on the way. Seeing good birds in the time
leading up to the race start time is a foolish thing to do, as you know
they will do, as birds do, and take wing.
Finally its just 15 minutes to go??..waiting for start??adrenalin starts to
pump as you know the next 24 will be full on. Five minutes to go and a pair
of Rufous Bristlebirds were being ridiculously easy to observe, hopping
around on the track in front of us whilst tourists came and went in all
directions. We head for the lookout and set up the scope on a loafing Shy
Albatross. 30 seconds to go and a Bristlebird calls. And then we start?.bird
no 1 Shy Albatross. Peregrine is on rocks?didn?t spy him on our build
up?that?s a goody. Bristlebirds are silent but still 10 minutes to go. Then
a real bonus in the form of an Arctic Jaeger heading east.A temporary high,
which doesn?t last, as the Bristlebirds are not calling. After some creeping
and peering around under the windswept coastal shrubs we do what we know we
have to. Stick to our timeline, and leave. And so starts the endless highs
and lows that is a bird race. Fortunately this year we had many more highs
Original redneck Mick takes the wheel and wastes no time in tackling the
obstacles in our way on the road. Don?t those Sunday drivers know there?s a
twitchathon on? And why did they put that silly roundabout there, thoughts
of going straight over it are put to one side, safety is a priority, and
speeding is out. However the café?s car park is a very convenient place to
stop despite the fact its customers only. We are really living on the edge !
The Snipe pond has no snipe, but a Buff-banded Rail is more than
compensating, and then it?s on along the coast ticking off passing balls of
feathers at 100kms an hour.
A run over a dune for Hooded Plover is done by two of us whilst the driver
negotiates the busy car park and gets in position for a fast getaway ( yes
we are serious). Hooded Plover is no problem?.but still no Pacific Gulls,
not a bird that can hide easily.
Next stop is in some waist high heath for Southern Emu-wren. Fortunately for
us this family group is in exactly the same spot as it always has been in
previous years and a tricky species becomes another quick tick. Striated
Fieldwren is a handy backup.
The adrenalin is in full flow by now, we race back to the car and on to our
last ocean site and our last hope of clinching a Bristlebird. The stunted
cliff-top vegetation is exposed but also provides great shelter to these
birds. So much shelter in fact that we completely fail to sight one. Not to
worry, both Common and Brush Bronzewing are chalked off the list. We?ll take
Now the drive around Geelong to Werribee, where we know there will be a
smorgasboard awaiting us?..we are on schedule and the two hours spent at the
?treatment? works until dusk do not disappoint. The reeds in the T-section
deliver 3 crake species?..and at dusk a Lewins Rail calls near the bird
hide, that?s 2 rails and 3 crakes already, a big bonus compared with
previous years. We intensely scour every inch of the Beach road ponds where
Painted Snipe has been found the day before, and then discuss the option of
returning after dark with torches, when the bird will surely be feeding out
in the open. But we already have a full schedule for the evening and this
would mean missing out on another hour of sleep. Reducing 3 hours to 2 is
not a goer so which ditch the fine idea. We tick off Brolga and then our
first encounter with another team, at the T-section, where we quickly
realise that we?d better be careful what we say!! The friendly team driver
( of the ?Why Knots?) nicely asks if we?ve seen the Brolgas, as if to offer
advice if we haven?t. We reply that yes we did, but thanks for asking, only
to then discover that our opposition actually has not yet. The subject is
changed quickly and we drive off giggling like schoolkids.
As the mad dash around Werribee continues the first signs of fatigue starts
to kick in. We?ve been going at it pretty hard for 4 hours, but with so many
potential humdingers in the area we keep the intensity going??Common Tern
near Kirk Point is handy, but no Littles or Fairys to be found. The usual
swings and roundabouts. Banded Stilts are a breeze this year, and gradually
we pick off the commoner waders. The sun finally sets, and somehow we
realise only one of us has connected with a Pied Cormorant. Could this turn
into the biggest dip of the twitch?
Then the trip into Melbourne where we have this year added Little Penguin to
our agenda. The stars align as we drive into the packed car park when a
space magically appears, and while we are parking a random guy gives us his
still valid parking ticket. Within 15 minutes we are back at the car with
the Penguin on our list and away.
Then the stars come out of alignment and we head into some atrocious
Saturday night Melbourne traffic.
We finally reach our campsite in the mountains at 1.30pm. A number of stops
on the way through have failed to connect with any decent nightbirds?..this
is the usual story for us, except last year when we fluked a Sooty Owl.
Anyway at least a Boobook is calling. I have been head bobbing in the back
seat. Apparently my head was smashing on the rear window on a semi regular
basis, but it didn?t even wake me up. At least I grabbed a few useful
A rough tally of 130 species by the end of the first session is quite
satisfying and well up on last year. We sleep soundly, feeling that this
year things are really going our way.
We awake before 5am with a heavy dew, and the mountain barely waking up. I
skull the traditional carton of ?Up and GO?, a vomit inducing fast food
breakfast of dissolved weetbix. This year I chose strawberry flavour which
is definitely more palatable. It still takes a while to clear from the back
of my throat.
The next hour is all about our ears. Bassian Thrush and Yellow Robin are
early callers. A Grey Currawong is a handy pickup, and a Satin Flycatcher
also calls early from the tree tops. As the light slowly appears Rose Robin,
Rufous Fantail, Large-billed Scrubwren, Superb Lyrebird, Crested Shrike-tit,
Red-browed Treecreeper and a host of commoner wet forest birds all announce
We are going well, but always thinking of the birds we know are present but
have not heard. The noise of the river nearby combines with the cacophony of
bird noise, making it a challenge to isolate individual calls. Then its
time to move down the mountain with a few quick stops on the way. We have a
dream run. Pink Robin and Spinebill, Satin Bowerbird and Noisy Friarbird,
YTBlack Cockatoos, and then further along the road both Wonga Pigeon and
GangGang are sighted next to the road. We are on a roll and leave the last
of the mountain forest with only a few birds missed. The morning slumber is
well and truly over, we are back into race mode.
Local knowledge is hard to beat and Redneck Matt has plenty as we travel
through the foothills. Bell Miner, White-throated Gerygone, Leaden
Flycatcher, are great pickups. As it is on a bird race we quickly move into
different habitats??suddenly the feel changes as we move into central
Victoria?s box iron bark country. We make 4 stops on the way through, with
target birds dropping like flies. One especially good stop has us enjoying 3
species of lorikeets in the trees whilst a Black-eared Cuckoo calls nearby.
Speckled Warbler, not the easiest of pickups in a hurry, is found and sings
away for us, whilst both Brown Goshawk and Collared Sparrowhawk have cruised
past, along the way. Clearly the drought breaking rains and increased bird
numbers following a bumper breeding season are helping our cause. It?s just
statistics at the end of the day.
Next location is to collect some mallee specialities on the way past
Bendigo. Last year we cleaned up in half an hour?.a ridiculously brilliant
birding session. This year the goodies take a bit longer to declare their
presence. Variegated Wren and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater appear first. Then a
White-fronted Honeyeater by the road is another bonus bird.
We then have our second encounter with another team, friendly but brief
banter ensues, they are heading down to a small waterhole, a spot we wish to
look at too, but we decide to head the other way. The Crested Bellbird that
called before they arrived, has completely stopped. We have descended into
giggling schoolkids again as we pray that it keeps its ventriloquistic bill
shut ( is that a word?).
At our hotspot for Purple-gaped Honeyeater all is quiet. We remain
philosophical....the White-fronted makes up for this dip. Our luck is in
however when a Shy Heathwren calls. Inland Thornbill and Yellow-plumed
Honeyeater however are not cooperating either. Time to leave, just as we
were getting started. We?ve left a couple behind here, but our schedule is
Off across the plains where Songlarks and Bushlarks are collected at 100kph,
and raptor numbers start to climb. This becomes a chance for us to take
stock of our situation, a quick tally indicates that we are already on 180
species. We have just under 4 hours race time to go, and a look through the
list indicates that there are around 60 species ahead of us to realistically
The Rednecks mood lifts to a new high. The intense birding for such a long
period has our heads in a fatigued whirlwind of places and names?..but this
situation , a chance for one of those really big totals that you never
really think is going to happen, certainly lifts our energy levels to
We know we must go hard right to the end, and not waste the opportunity ( is
this starting to sound like a reality TV script?).
A Black Falcon nest site, has the dutiful parent in position, and a fly
around the Terricks forest continues the theme. We are seeing far more than
we are missing. In fact we clock up another 10 species or more through the
area, including Australian Ringneck which has always eluded us in the past.
Our run of luck just keeps going, and in the back of our minds we are just
waiting for it to run out. A horror hour surely looms where nothing goes to
plan and the list stalls.
We continue northwards stopping at a wetland on the way. A quadruple
tickfest in the space of 2 minutes, just from the side of the road has us
believing again that this is the year. White-winged Fairy-wren, Brown Quail,
Glossy Ibis and Intermediate Egret?? its all just too easy.
We have been determined to stick to our timeline all the way, in fact we
have made an effort to get ahead instead of the usual stressful situation of
running behind schedule. And we have succeeded in gaining 20 minutes thus
far, with our sights firmly set on a finish at Goschen reserve out of Lake
A quick stop near Kerang and we bump into a flock of Grey-crowned
Babbler?.not one we were expecting at get lucky with. Our thoughts turn to
that Pied Cormorant so we detour off the highway into the irrigation storage
lakes north of Kerang. Pied Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Yellow-throated
Miner and White-breasted Woodswallow all get thoroughly ticked. Another
quick foursome??. And still Goschen to go. We know now that whatever happens
we will be ecstatic with our result, smashing our previous PB, and we?ve got
plenty of time up our sleeves for the finish.
We pulled into Lake Tutchewop, hoping for an Orange Chat, and maybe Freckled
Duck or Little Eagle. Great birding there, but no cigars, probably the first
stop we?d made without adding to the total. Further up the road Blue Bonnets
appeared in good numbers as we closed in on the finish. A scramble through
some spiny rush to gain a clear view of Round Lake is rewarded with a Marsh
Sandpiper?.worth the pain, and a pair of roadside Cockatiel keep the ball
well and truly rolling as we drive into the little grassy mallee reserve at
Goschen. We?ve got a full half an hour and there?s a number of species to
look for. However with the end in sight and a mega score already in the bag,
the brick wall that is the finishing line of a Twitchathon starts to take
effect. That jetlagged feeling in the head wasn?t helped by the hot sunny
conditions, and just as our energies begin to drain, so too the birding
slows down. The reserve seemed quite quiet with only a handful of
Woodswallows around, and the usual other suspects. Definitely past its peak
spring flurry.However Black Honeyeater and Budgerigar were fairly easily
located, and the remaining time was spent looking and hoping for Hooded
Robin, Masked Woodswallow, Pied Honeyeater, Little Button-quail and Owlet
Nightjar, but to no avail.
And then suddenly it was over. No ticks in the last 20 but we didn?t care.
What a buzz to see Victoria?s top birding locations in a year of plenty.
The memories are many, if a little mixed together. And what better way to
get the twitching urge out of your system for another year, well nearly a
We have a rough idea of our total, around 222 we think, but a closer look at
our tally as we start the trip home reveals a bigger total than we thought.
224 seems to be where we ended up, which we know equals the highest ever
total for a Victorian twitchathon. Perhaps not surprisingly given our
fatigued state, we have missed ticking off one more bird (SEmu-wren) from
the list, and it is not until later that we realise that 225 is in fact the
correct total ! This is way beyond our expectations, and is a pretty good
indication of the fantastic conditions for birding in Victoria at the
moment. Last year following much the same route we only managed 197.
Worst dips would have to be the Bristlebird at the start, and also Hooded
Robin (usually a dead cert in the Terricks forest), Black-fronted Dotterel,
Blue-billed Duck and Yellow-plumed Honeyeater.
Best bird is hard to pick. Perhaps the Arctic Jaeger, or Spotless Crake
(which we actually saw).
Happy birding to you all,
Si, Matt and Mick.
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